According to John Cunliffe, the challenge today for service providers revolves around getting the mobile broadband pipe to work effectively. In this regard, the problems remain the same, he says. Namely that users want good, reliable connections.
If those within the industry can get this right and keep consumers happy, Cunliffe shares the view of those analysts who believe we will see the number of connections rising from 4.5 billion today to some 50 billion in 2020 as we seek to deliver wireless connectivity in the home and workspace using the likes of M2M communications, smart metering and mobile broadband.
Obviously, Ericsson has been playing its part, and at this year’s Mobile World Congress the company demonstrated mobile connections to smart meters and connected vehicles. It has also been showcasing developments in ehealth applications and Cunliffe sees its role as being one of demonstrating what could be possible using fairly ubiquitous mobile broadband.
‘We’ve got the expertise in the radio access network and the core network; the next question is how far inside the machine-to-machine market do we go?’ he says. ‘Our role is to develop, demonstrate and bring together solutions that actually help the operators see the potential.’
Cunliffe feels service providers need specialist units to address these markets as they equip themselves to make the shift from dealing with live end-users to the M2M environment.
Already he says Vodafone and O2 have established departments that do just that and, for them, it represents a massive opportunity. ‘The growth potential makes it well worth the effort for operators and the vendors and partners that work with them,’ he adds.
Growth of usage is a challenge but it is not insurmountable. The technology is there to support accelerating demand and operators are very focused on delivering good and competitive mobile broadband services, he says.
That’s why they’re investing more. A recent report by Arthur D. Little found that 100% of operators in the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands expect their capital expenditure to rise by 20% in the coming year.
‘That’s very positive because it illustrates that investments are being made in the network to address the sharp rise in data traffic,’ explains Cunliffe. ‘The MBNL joint venture, through which 3 UK and T-Mobile share infrastructure, has already built improved capacity and early reports show that customers have noticed the improvement.
‘However, I have noticed a recent dropping off in the availability of unlimited mobile data packages. Operators have got to generate revenues from their mobile broadband investments so I’d expect to see packages of 1GB, 2GB and 3GB per month being sold and, in a year or so, those rising to 4GB, 5GB or 6GB packages,’ he adds. ‘It’s important operators are able to monetise those investments they’re making in network improvement.’
With the emergence of reliable, high-speed cellular bandwidth having called into question the need for wireless technologies like TETRA, Cunliffe says the technology still has its place.
‘We have a good radio solution based on conventional technology and we can effectively complement what goes on in TETRA,’ he says. ‘We can provide good equipment with good coverage and good bandwidth and there are advantages to cellular communications. For example, speeds are higher and devices are cheaper because of the broader ecosystem that surrounds cellular device developments.’
As far as the public sector is concerned, Cunliffe says Category 2 public safety responders can use normal, 2G or 3G types of device, while the company also has group radio solutions coming in now that can also be used by emergency services.
This works on enabling provision of good radio but also involves providing specific equipment. For example, for public safety organisations, Ericsson has developed a base station in a backpack that can be used by emergency relief agencies to establish communications on site in a disaster area in a matter of hours.
‘We also have portable exchanges that can be rapidly deployed to a disaster zone to aid relief efforts,’ he says. ‘There’s also huge potential in wireless communications for emergency workers to send video back to their control room and assist workers to protect themselves by enabling control rooms to see what they’re doing. Wireless broadband enables that level of two way high bandwidth communication.’
With 3G and LTE coming to market, Cunliffe believes the scope for wireless technologies that address applications in vertical sectors is widening.
When you think about where we are at the moment with mobile broadband, 7.2Mbps is the theoretical maximum speed available but most people get 1Mbps and are happy with that,’ he explains. ‘With 3G and LTE, we’ll see coverage improve and we’ll see speed improve. The phase we’re in at the moment is just the beginning.
'Mobile broadband is already very successful with entry-level services and entry-level coverage and there will be far greater user take up as speeds improve. The HSPA roadmap extends from current speeds to 21Mbps and LTE will take that even further. The availability of connection is the priority and applications will arrive to make use of that.’
With countries across the European Union already focused on cutting costs, the new coalition government in the UK is expected to follow suit and pull funding across the public sector to meet targets.
However, with mobility being a basic need, Cunliffe says he’d be very surprised if budgets were cut, especially in safety and security-related areas.
‘It’s also important to view wireless as a potential area for saving costs through the efficiencies it generates,’ he adds. ‘It also will be relevant to reducing CO2 emissions [that are increasingly becoming part of countries’ legislations]. We’ll see it enable working from home and reduction of journeys, for instance. It's in demand and has made the case for its advantages so I don’t see budgets being cut in most areas.’